Guild in Murdoch University row

Article from: The Australian
Jill Rowbotham | November 19, 2008

MURDOCH University’s Guild of Students has accused the chancellor of threatening to withdraw or withhold funding unless it tones down its activism.

Bad blood between the students and administration has spilled into an exchange of letters over the role of the guild.

In a letter, seen by the HES, to Murdoch guild president Clare Middlemas, chancellor Terry Budge referred to concerns about “the financial management and management generally of the guild”. These are now under external review so the senate’s resources subcommittee “can be satisfied that the continuation of the considerable financial and in-kind support provided by the university remains appropriate”, he wrote.

The guild and the university disagree about their financial relationship, but they agree that the administration allots $108,000 cash to the guild each year for salaries for sports officers. Guild membership fees brought in $250,000 this year.

“Guild resources are increasingly being used and directed towards matters that are damaging to the university and not demonstrably enhancing the student experience,” Mr Budge said in the letter dated November 14.

He complained about a recent ad for Curtin University in the student magazine and “continued commentary in local media” by guild staff regarding the Rockingham campus.

He also objected to “campaigns that have included personal and aggressive attacks against university management, and negative campaigns regarding … negotiations with the National Tertiary Education Union”.

“The senate is very aware of the considerable support currently provided to the guild by the university,” Mr Budge wrote. “These considerations are particularly pertinent in an environment where … the university may expect to begin collecting fees from students.”

Mr Budge requested a response to the question of “whether in your view continued conduct such as that outlined above is consistent with an expectation that the university’s financial and in-kind support will continue.”

Ms Middlemas replied in an email on November 17: “We were under the impression that the external review … was an independent audit of the guild’s finances and operations and would not be used to coerce the guild to change other aspects of its operations and role, or its legitimacy in the university community.” She argued that “a critical voice is beneficial to the university”.

“Students of this university are customers. They are paying a lot for their education, and they have a right to get what they paid for. If they have complaints, students approach the guild, give feedback and raise concerns. You are implying unless the guild ceases (playing) its democratically elected role (representing students, being the feedback mechanism), you will remove funding or deny us potential funding.”

National Union of Students national president Angus McFarland condemned Mr Budge’s letter as bullying, saying: “From a national perspective, the situation at Murdoch confirms our fears that several universities will be hostile to student input and control of the new student levy proposed by the Government.”

Speaking tothe HES, Ms Middlemas said the guild was only doing its job and that the year had been characterised by students asking questions and not receiving “straight answers”. “I don’t feel we have been personally attacking them, we have been sticking to the issues,” she said.

In a statement issued late yesterday, Mr Budge said the university and the senate “have wanted, sought and continue to seek constructive dialogue” with the guild.

The resources committee had “been in discussions with the guild since July of this year regarding the need to undertake an external review to address a number of concerns, which are referred to in the letter of 14 November”.